From left: Starkville High School girls basketball coach Kristie Williams and assistant coaches Gwen Johnson and Anita Johnson celebrate a run by the Lady Yellow Jackets in their 46-27 victory against Murrah on Saturday in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship game in Jackson. Photo by: Chris Todd/Special to The Dispatch
March 10, 2018 11:15:13 PM
JACKSON -- After the trophy presentation, the Starkville High School girls basketball team broke a team huddle and Tabreea Gandy, with the state championship banner draped around her shoulders, took off for the locker room.
This state championship had been won on the court and wasn't going anywhere.
Starkville repeated as Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State champions with a 46-27 victory against Murrah on Saturday night at Mississippi Coliseum.
A year ago, Starkville lost to Olive Branch in the state championship title game. The title was later given to Starkville because Olive Branch played an ineligible player.
The past 12 months, Starkville has lived with the motivation of winning a championship outright.
"It's incredibly sweet," Starkville senior Jariyah Covington said. "This is our championship, and it isn't going anywhere. We wanted this badly. To go out as state champions is sweet. It's the two-peat, and we are excited about that."
Kirsten Thompson led Starkville with 21 points, seven rebounds, and three blocked shots. Covington added 11 points.
Starkville (28-2) shot 48.6 percent from the field and held Murrah (30-3) to 27-percent shooting. The Lady Jackets also forced 18 turnovers, including seven in a first quarter when the same was virtually decided.
In the regular season, Starkville lost to Murrah by nine points before winning by five and three in the last two meetings.
This game was far different.
A 10-0 run gave Starkville a 24-10 lead midway through the second quarter.
"There was a lot more at stake," Thompson said. "We knew we had to turn it on tonight to win a championship. This team played its best basketball at the end of the season."
Covington said facing a region rival was a huge advantage in Jackson.
"We just played with more confidence because we knew what they could do and what they couldn't do," Covington said. "The fast start was important. Coach talked about taking over the game in the first quarter. We didn't want to leave any doubt."
Thompson had 12 points and had the answer offensively and defensively in the second half. Murrah stayed primarily with jump shots and rarely ventured inside.
Williams called a timeout when the lead was cut to 14 late in the third quarter. Starkville scored the next seven points.
"It was just a special team," Williams said. "For the seniors, I am so proud they won this championship on this floor. They got to celebrate a state championship. They got to make pictures and hold up the gold ball. You will remember this for the rest of your life.
"For me, the monkey is off my back, too. It's a championship, a real championship that we won by being the best team in the state."
Starkville senior Jalisa Outlaw watched as Covington -- the team's undisputed vocal leader -- lined up photo after photo. You could tell the emotion was beginning to build.
"It's incredible," Outlaw said. "We worked so hard for this. We have worked a couple of years for this. The coaches told us to handle adversity. As long we didn't get down and kept playing, we would be fine. We knew we could win the game. We just had to prove to everybody we had what it takes to be a state champion."
A large contingent of fans, parents, and students lined the walkway to the locker room.
The high-fives, hugs, and pictures were plentiful.
Williams had the challenge of holding the gold ball while sharing embraces with fans and posing for a few pictures. The ball kept changing hands based on who wanted to greet the coach next.
The good news is she was no longer carrying a monkey on her back as well, so this struggle was all worthwhile.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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